Hurricanes Could Face Tough Choices Navigating the Expansion Draft

With the 2020-21 season in the rear-view mirror, the Carolina Hurricanes should now have their sights firmly set on the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, free agency period, and expansion draft. Given the Hurricanes’ current roster situation, the Seattle Kraken likely have eyes on Carolina as a potential target for a high-caliber player. Using salary cap data, I’d like to take a look at how the Carolina front office can adjust to specific players being picked from their roster by Seattle.

To see which players will be protected from Seattle, I’ll be using the most popular selections from the CapFriendly Expansion Draft Simulator, along with two exceptions. First, I think it’s very fair to predict that goaltender Alex Nedelkjovic is going to be protected over Petr Mrazek, given his breakout over the course of this past season. For the other exception, I’ll be protecting Jake Bean rather than Dougie Hamilton, who seems to be all but on his way out of Carolina. With those changes made, almost the entire core is protected. A few key exceptions still remain, however, and the Hurricanes will have to adapt to whatever selection Seattle makes quickly in order to continue their rise as a future Cup contender.

Seattle Selects Brady Skjei

Brady Skjei never put many points on the board during his time in Carolina, but has been a consistent presence on the second or third defensive pairing. He’s also been mocked to Seattle numerous times and the match makes a lot of sense. With a contract at $5.25 million per year, Skjei could slide in as an everyday player for the Kraken at a reasonable cost. While he only scored 10 points this season (with none in the playoffs), a 39-point season in 2017-18 shows the high ceiling that Skjei could reach again, should Seattle take the chance.

Brady Skjei Carolina Hurricanes
Brady Skjei, Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If Skjei is the Kraken’s selection from Carolina, there will be a hole in the defensive unit that likely isn’t going to be filled by any of the Canes’ current prospects. Barring a trade to bring in a suitable replacement being struck, the Hurricanes would have to turn to free agency. A plethora of talented defensemen are on expiring contracts and though many are likely to never hit the open market, Carolina would still have plenty of options to choose from.

Seattle Signs Dougie Hamilton

Just before the expansion draft, the Kraken are afforded the option to negotiate with pending unrestricted free agents, who (if signed) would act as the Kraken’s selection during the expansion draft. The odds of Dougie Hamilton playing in Raleigh next year are getting slimmer and slimmer (though things may be looking up for a reunion as of June 11). It would be unfortunate to see such a talented defenseman leave the franchise but a signing could potentially give the Hurricanes more flexibility after the expansion draft.

Rather than losing Hamilton to free agency and another player to Seattle, Carolina comes out only losing Hamilton in this scenario. Pending the decision on retaining Jani Hakanpää, who also has an expiring contract with the Canes, Carolina could still field a top six of players with experience in Rod Brind’Amour’s system with room to grow throughout the offseason.

A deal with Hamilton seems like a highly unlikely outcome for the expansion draft, but for Carolina, it could mean a chance to let the talents of Joey Keane or the newly-signed Eric Gelinas make their case for an NHL lineup. Similar to if Skjei were selected, Carolina also holds plenty of chances to fill this hole via free agency.

Seattle Selects Jesper Fast

Another unlikely scenario, but I find this to be more plausible than a signing of Dougie Hamilton. Should Seattle take Jesper Fast, they gain a fantastic locker room presence and a player with experience playing anywhere in the forward lineup. At a cap hit of only $2 million until 2023, Fast would be an affordable forward playing consistently for the new franchise.

Jesper Fast New York Rangers
Jesper Fast as a New York Ranger (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Fast wasn’t filling up highlight reels throughout 2021, but did put on a quietly positive season. In his only year with Carolina thus far, he put up 19 points in 46 games (0.41/game and roughly worth 34 points in a full season). These numbers and the fantastic intangibles Fast possesses would be fantastic at $2 million for any team with the money and the Kraken will have plenty to play with.

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Losing Fast wouldn’t be as hard on the Hurricanes as one of their defensemen, but replacing a leader on and off the ice, no matter his contract or production is difficult. Thankfully for Carolina, the prospect pool is loaded with talent ready to make the jump to playing with the NHL squad. Morgan Geekie (RFA) played significant minutes throughout the 2021 Season and with another summer to develop could be a great fit as a bottom-six regular for the Hurricanes in the future. Also waiting for his shot is Seth Jarvis, the Hurricanes’ first-round selection during the 2020 NHL Draft. During a brief stint in Chicago, Jarvis lit up the scoresheet and has high expectations both within the organization and league-wide.

Seattle Signs James Reimer or Petr Mrazek

Both James Reimer and Petr Mrazek are on expiring contracts and will likely command at or below their current cap hits in the lower $3 milllion range. For a team looking to build a fresh roster, one of the veteran goaltenders from Carolina could be another fantastic fit. I think Seattle would likely sign Mrazek over Reimer given the option, but either one could go to the Kraken via the free agency period before the expansion draft.

Losing one of the two goalies wouldn’t be a heartbreak for Carolina. At least one was likely to go elsewhere following this past season. If Seattle uses their pick by signing one, the Hurricanes have the option to retain the other as a backup to Alex Nedelkjovic, who is likely to be the starter in 2021-2022.

Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes
Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If Carolina elects to not re-sign either Mrazek or Reimer, options remain via free agency or trade to pick up a suitable backup for Nedelkjovic. 11 goalies with a cap hit of under $3 million who played 10 games or more in the NHL during the 2020-21 season are on expiring deals and it would be shocking if Carolina could not secure one of them to fill out a rotation potentially missing both Reimer and Mrazek.

Adapting to Seattle’s Presence Within the League

After the expansion draft, the Seattle Kraken are going to greatly impact the NHL landscape. No matter who they select on July 21, the Kraken will force the Hurricanes to adapt to tough changes. Thanks to the recent success of the franchise’s rebuild, Carolina possesses a multitude of talented players making up their NHL roster along with a still-loaded prospect pool waiting for their shot. Regardless of their riches, however, the Hurricanes must have a plan of attack for an abnormal offseason where the expansion draft threatens to remove one of many talented players they cannot afford to protect.

(All data was sourced through hockey-reference.com, NHL.com or capfriendly.com.)


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